With its romantic setting high above popular Sicilian beaches, Taormina is Italy’s favourite wedding destination. Its medieval charm, restaurants and views of Moun Etna are a winning formula
Not everybody who visits Taormina in Sicily is there to get married, but on a Saturday evening on the Corso Umberto it seems that way. Taormina is the most popular place for Italians to tie the knot, and other Europeans follow their lead. On both Saturdays we were there, five weddings took place. Together with the normal evening passegiata on this main thoroughfare through the town, the brides in their finery, accompanied by wedding guests, walk up and down and pause for photographs at the picturesque Piazza IX Aprile. Sitting outside a café people-watching does not get any better than this, but bear in mind that prices reflect the popularity of the town. Two drinks, served with crisps and peanuts, can cost €9-10 in the Piazza IX Aprile.
There are occasional processions of brightly decorated carts along the Corso Umberto, each containing a small musical group trying to outplay its rivals, or a march-past by the town band to enliven the day further. Regular concerts take place in the evening in the Piazza IX Aprile, and notices of events are posted under the Clock Tower and inside the entrance to the Giardino Pubblico.
This small town, with its core of medieval thoroughfares, is perched on a hillside overlooking the Mediterranean. Narrow streets and passageways run uphill and downhill from the Corso Umberto, and though cars and scooters occasionally intrude, this is as close as you will come to an informal pedestrianised area. Walking around this part of town is a delight.
Things to do
My recommendation for the first day is to visit the impressive Greek Theatre, stopping off at the Palazzo dei Congressi to find out who is performing, and buy tickets. It is a magical experience to watch any performance in such a beautiful setting… and I had no idea that Jethroe Tull has such a large and enthusiastic following in Sicily.
Taormina contains a wealth of Greek, Roman and medieval buildings, including a 14th-century monastery which is now the five-star San Domenico Palace Hotel. With its cool cloisters, the building retains a distinctive historic character. Some of its 105 rooms, including eight suites, have private mini-pools and guests are free to wander in the sunny gardens with their fragrant orange blossom, rose and jasmine. The hotel has three restaurants, including the Michelin-starred Principe Cerami for seasonal gourmet dining. The tourist information office, on the ground floor of the Palazzo Corvaja, provides a useful street map to locate this and other historic buildings.
Restaurants and cafés
There are plenty of small restaurants scattered throughout the area, but eating at L’Orologio was an unforgettable experience, sitting outside at the top of the steps leading down to the Piazza IX Aprile, with the sea view beyond and accordion music drifting up from a café below. For a similarly atmospheric location, try one of the several candlelit restaurants encroaching on the Via Numachia. If it's café entertainment you want, the Mocambo Café and the Caffè Wunderbar on the Piazza IX Aprile provide piano and accordion music in the evening, while in the daytime you may catch Giuseppe and Gianni busking in front of the Mocambo Café (CD purchase optional). Alternatively, the waiter at the café facing the Church of Santa Caterina will occasionally burst into song.
For essential drinking water and other provisions, there is a medium-sized supermarket on the Via Appolo Argeta, the second road on the right after passing through the Porta Catania. There is also the mini market at 66 Via Bagnoli Croche, and you can have tasty baguettes made up at Mamma Mia at number 57. This is just two minutes' walk from the Giardino Pubblico, whose many benches, shade and views provides a perfect setting for a picnic. For those who enjoy real shopping, the Corso Umberto provides a wide range of smart shops.
For the very fit, the beaches below Taormina can be reached by three footpaths. Most hotels provide courtesy buses. From the bus station (Via Pirandello) the Letojanni service runs hourly to the northern beaches, and the Giardini service half-hourly to the Giardini Nexos beaches.
A cable car, again from the Via Pirandello, provides a more direct route to the beach every quarter of an hour, and from the terminus it is only a few steps to the Mazzaro Lido. Sunbeds and umbrellas can be hired on most beaches (€10-12 a day). Hawkers on the beaches do not hassle you, and my wife found the Chinese massage (€10 for 20 minutes) so good she had one each time we went to the beach. Small boats will pick you up from the beach and take you for an hour's sailing around the coast, visiting the Grotta Azzurra and Isola Bella. The impressive locations of Taormina and Castelmola can best be appreciated when viewed from the sea.
Inland, perched high above Taormina, is the hilltop village of Castelmola. This is well worth a visit, with its castle, intricate street layout, numerous cafés and great views. A bus runs approximately hourly. Alternatively, there are footpaths for the very energetic, with the option of a detour to include the Saracens' castle and Santuario Madonna della Rocca, the favourite location for weddings.
Where to stay
We stayed at the Villa Diodoro Hotel, conveniently located on the edge of the old town. It occupies a magnificent setting adjacent to the Giardino Pubblico, and is designed so the majority of rooms have balconies with panoramic views of Mount Etna and the ocean. While the rooms with the best views cost a little extra, we consider this well worth paying. A courtesy bus provides access down to the sister hotel, the Caparena, and its private beach where sunbeds, umbrellas and towels are provided. The food is good, the service attentive and friendly – but for us, the icing on the cake was the pianist who played on the terrace most evenings. A more romantic setting would be hard to imagine.
Unfortunately, not all marriages survive until “death do us part” – but it is certain that, once you have visited, you will always love Taormina.